City Paper is not for tourists
Hello, My Name Is… is an immersive, site-specific theatrical experiment from playwright collective The Welders, developed out of writer Deb Sivigny’s 2015 visit to South Korea. She was born there, but came to the United States as an adoptee when she was still an infant. As an adult, she grew curious about the circumstances of her adoption and the homeland she’d been too young to remember.
Her new show dramatizes this three-and-a-half-decade journey through three characters whose experiences roughly parallel her own: All of them came to the U.S. as part of the massive exodus that brought 200,000 South Korean children stateside between 1970 and 1990. As the show opens, the audience crams itself into Aunt Rosey (Julie Garner)’s Midwestern living room to await the arrival of six-year-old June (Linda Bard) in 1990. The venue is Takoma’s Rhizome community art space—a repurposed two-story residential home that typically hosts art installations and concerts. With each scene change, the audience is ushered into another room, up the creaky stairs or down, out to the backyard or back into the kitchen. Performers and observers jockey for space, and the mild discomfort and social anxiety this induces—no one is allowed to settle into their darkened seat and disappear—helps the audience project themselves into the emotional climate of characters who are haunted by a sense of unbelonging. Sivigny is a sought-after set designer, but rarely has the physical environment of a theatrical experience influenced the product so profoundly. (Hello’s set is credited to Patti Kalil.)
Our three protagonists face the trials of adulthood with variable fortunes: Dana (Janine Baumgardner), was brought up by a loving, seemingly prosperous family and enjoys a fairly comfortable life, while Bryan (Jon Jon Johnson) isn’t so lucky. Eventually, they all return to South Korea—one of them involuntarily—to investigate their roots. A silent Jennifer Knight, dressed in a traditional Korean hanbok, floats through periodically, a representation of the birth mother all three adoptees are seeking, metaphorically if not literally. Another standout performer, Emily Sucher, plays a childhood friend of June’s who finds their relationship becoming strained as they each grow to adulthood. Her drunken outburst at Dana’s wedding is the only scene that feels contrived, but Sucher’s performance brings a note of levity to an evening that might be unbearably somber without it.
Most scenes are separated by gaps of many years. Sivigny and director Randy Baker use pop hits to signal which era we’re in, although many scenes have a calendar on the wall to let us know if it’s 1990 or 1995 or 2002. Even signposts as clear as these can’t alleviate every trace of narrative murk, but the plot isn’t the point. Art is not a police report. As an emotional collage that captures one small facet of the immigrant experience in an empathetic and inventive way, Hello, My Name Is… is an experience to which you’d be wise to introduce yourself.
6950 Maple St. NW. $40. thewelders.org.